POULSBO — Much like they’ve done this season while waiting for key players to come back from injuries, North Kitsap stayed calm and persevered against a Kingston team that was looking to wreak havoc in the Olympic League girls basketball standings with an upset.
There was no lack of effort for the Buccaneers, but North Kitsap wasn’t going to be denied and won 50-40 behind the 18 points from junior Raelee Moore and a crackdown defense.
“We started out a little rough, but at the end, we definitely pulled it together,” Moore said. “You felt happy to be out there.”
It was one of the Vikings’ better defensive efforts of the season said coach Penny Gienger.
“Our defense carried us,” she said. “Offensively we were a little hesitant, maybe not quite where we want to be, but typically offense’s are last to come.”
Gienger said preventing Kingston from scoring from 3-point range for most of three quarters was a solid start.
“That was an emphasis, and I thought we played really well (to do that),” she said.
North (10-3 overall, 6-0 OL) has a one-game lead over Port Angeles (10-3, 5-1), which beat North Mason 59-29 Tuesday. Kingston is in third (9-4, 4-2) as the top four teams head to the postseason.
The Vikings saw the return of senior guards Olivia Selembo, and Lauren Weins, both starters, after ankle and knee injuries kept them on the sidelines the first half of the season.
“For them to come up injured to start their senior year has been sad for them, and for us, and now it’s just getting them back on the court and giving them another shot at it,” Gienger said.
Gienger knew Kingston’s standout Lily Beaulieu would come through, and she did, scoring 15 points to lead the Bucs, but it was locking out Avy Hiner and keeping the rest of the Bucs relatively quiet offensively that secured the win.
“Lily’s a good player and Lily’s going to do what Lily does,” Gienger said, giving credit to the senior starter for the Bucs. “We were just trying to control that a little bit. You know they were going to go on a run. They’re a good team.”
It took a little while for North Kitsap to find its second gear, but once the Vikings did, they took a 25-15 lead into the half and kept a 10-point cushion after three quarters, 37-27.
The run for Kingston came in the fourth quarter.
Freshman post/guard Morgan Halady picked up the rebound off a Karliegh Gomez miss and finished the play with a layup off the glass to cut North’s lead to 39-33.
Kingston kept up the offensive pressure as Halady hit another layup under the basket, this time off a pass from fellow freshman Sierra Denning, and the Bucs closed to 42-35 with about three-and-a-half minutes left.
For many teams in the Olympic League, when it comes to playing North, it comes down to having mental fortitude.
“I think it’s how people look at themselves and look at how they play and psych themselves out,” said Halady, who finished with nine points.
But when Moore started hitting her shots, the momentum shifted into the Vikings’ favor.
Moore said she was happy to contribute.
“This was my team, and I have to make it for my team,” she said. “Other times it’s put on them, but this time it’s put on me so I just gotta do it for them. It’s not for me.”
Moore’s layup and foul for the 3-point play with 1:24 left increased NK’s lead back to 46-38. From there, North closed out the win on two free throws by Erin Pearson for the final score.
Halady, who has really started to come into her own as she’s gained more varsity experience, said the game was intense, and the Bucs played well, but they are thinking big picture as the playoffs near.
“I feel like every team always has more at the end of the game, but I know that we’ll be back,” she said. “The sky’s the limit.”